Former player guns down high school football coach

Published 12:37 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

PARKERSBURG, Iowa — Several hundred mourners gathered Wednesday at a rural Iowa stadium named for a popular high school football coach who authorities said was gunned down by a former player who was to have been taken to a psychiatric ward days before.

Pastors told those who attended a candlelight vigil to pray and seek God’s guidance following the death of Ed Thomas, who helped launch several NFL careers and was remembered by players, friends and neighbors as a deeply religious husband and father.

‘‘Lord, we summon you as people and a community that is bruised and battered,’’ said Phillip Jensen, pastor at First Congregational Church, where Thomas served as a church elder. Parkersburg recently commemorated the first anniversary of a tornado that wiped out about a third of the town, killing six people and destroying the high school and football field.

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Most of the school has been rebuilt and the field was named for Thomas, 58, who died early Wednesday after being shot in front of students in the weight room at Aplington-Parkersburg High School, where he coached for 34 years in the rural community of 1,800 residents 80 miles northeast of Des Moines.

‘‘In the midst of the shadow of death, we pray that you will be a healer of wounds,’’ Jensen told those in the crowd at the vigil, who held hands and bowed their heads.

Mark Becker, who was to have gone to a hospital psychiatric ward after allegedly leading police on a high-speed chase Saturday, is accused of unloading several rounds into Thomas as the coach held an offseason workout with students Wednesday morning, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Becker was arrested in the driveway of his parents’ home soon afterward.

School was not in session and Becker did not threaten the students, Winker said. Authorities did not release details about the gun that was used.